HawaiiWritten by Jason Ubay On 16 November 2010

Pablo's Cantina's house margarita. Photo by Derik Araki.

When Compadre’s restaurant at Ward Centre closed, so too did its Tuesday tradition of $1 tacos and cheap margaritas and Coronas. But don’t fret – the once favored hangout of college kids and cheapskates has been reintroduced by the space’s new tenant, Pablo’s Cantina.

Opening up a restaurant in a place that saw Compadres and E&O Trading Co. shut down in recent years seems like a risky venture, but not to Steve Hamile, principal owner at Pablo’s. “There are always considerations to make in any market,” he says. “However, it is important note that the closing of Compadres was not the result of a business failure but was an end-of-lease termination where the tenant chose to not renew and opted to open in California. From what we found, the Mexican concept was doing well in that location up until its closing.”

The new restaurant hopes to introduce food and beverage items never before seen in Honolulu: a jalapeno margarita, guacamole a tu mesa (servers cut up avocados made to order at your table) as well as the usual fare of tacos and burritos. Everything is made fresh and uses local produce from D. Otani Produce. The tortillas are made daily at the restaurant. Even the furniture is authentic, most of it coming from Mexico. Even the general manager and the head chef are from Mexico.

“There was an unsatisfied need in Hawaii for authentic Mexican food, and we created a concept that would offer this while also acknowledging that some people may just want buffalo wings and nachos,” Hamile says. “As a result, we offer a mix of traditional and popular menu options. And as we move forward, we’ll continue to integrate more selections to meet the needs of our customers.”

After a dinner there, I have to say the food is a vast improvement over the food once served by Compadres. Granted, I am a bit biased. I grew up in Southern California, and I had given up on eating decent Mexican food in Hawaii. I sometimes indulge in a chimichanga from Maria Bonita’s on Hotel Street, but only because it’s really hard to screw up a deep fried burrito smothered in enchilada sauce, sour cream and guacamole. At Pablo’s, however, I enjoyed everything I ate that night – the fresh guacamole, the generous and greasy chunk of pork carnitas, and the small and flavorful tacos al pastor. I’ll definitely be back for seconds.

The owners hope to start a chain of Pablo’s Cantinas. The second is set to open in early December in Tustin, Calif.

Taco Tuesday specials run from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Ward Centre, 2nd floor

808-591-8307

Twitter.com/pabloshonolulu

Facebook.com/pabloscantinahonolulu

The dining room at Pablo's Cantina. Photo by Derek Araki.

Fish Tacos. Photo by Derek Araki.

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Managing Editor, Hawaii Business magazine. He's also representing the mag on Facebook and Twitter at @hawaiibusiness. You can follow him on Twitter at @jubay.

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